His fingers had withered to gray, brittle sticks, worn down by years of rape and defilement, of rampant excess and the sickness that comes with too much power left unchecked and unopposed. This punishment extended to the rest of his body as well, which was equally withered and decrepit. He wore skin the pale color of the diseased, skeletally emaciated except for the bloated paunch of his naked belly, his back bent and cratered with ridges of bone and thin flesh.
“Why do you hate me so?” the decrepit man queried, his voice a strained whisper of age, the whole done without gesture and immersed in a slack wantonness.
The woman–a sharpened shard of bone clutched in her pale fist–could not tell if he was lost in a haze of drug or simply senile.
He sat cross-legged upon thick, embroidered pillows in this dark, sparsely furnished room within his city estate. His colorless gaze regarded her coolly. The once sharp, hawk-like eyes now dim – no longer piercing and far-seeing – but beady and dull, like those of a wild pig that had caged itself long ago and knew itself caught by its own desires. Milky eyes that were bored, consigned, hopeless.
Candle stubs atop small spheres of obsidian burned within shallow alcoves along the walls; their wax ran thick down the walls in rough pools and streaks, and their smoke filled the room with a sickening sweetness that made the woman want to gag and retch. Yet the feeble light they cast barely lit the room at all and let darkness stain everything with a dimness of color.
“Did I not make you everything you are? Was the path I showed you any less than I claimed it would be? Where is the loyalty you yet owe for my sparing your life?”
She shuddered as she recalled his once-strong frame hovering over her, his severe-yet-handsome face looking down upon her as he used her for his own pleasure. She did not want to consider how that man, a man she believed she had once loved, had become this…thing.
Years ago, he had come and taken her away from everything she had known: the endless, killing poverty, the constant disease and aching hunger, the biting rats that shared her bed, and the brutal sport of the city’s guard. He had taken her away from the life of a common citizen of the city.
His true motive had been nothing more than the same sport of the city guards: to hunt and kill the dregs of the city; to bind the strongest into slavery and sell them to the slave traders who crossed the wasted desert lands or to the arena where they would satiate citizen-crowds thirsty for blood and death and a brief respite from their own short, brutal lives. All to make coin at the expense of others, coin that would buy favors among the nobility and the immortal god-kings who ruled over all.
He had been a young man rising quickly through the ranks of the city’s ruling class, a step beneath the immortal sorcerers who ruled the lands, and very far above the station of the common man. Thus, when he came with his men, sweeping through the streets, the guards had looked the other way, for their own pockets had been filled with gleaming coin and the blameless need to feed and protect their own families.
She could not fault the guards. To this day, she could not, for she and her family would have done the same.
“Did I not love you? Did I not teach you secrets? Are you not alive today when the rest of your wretched family is dead?” his straining, ruined voice reminded her, taunted her.
She still remembered her father’s dying gurgle, the bloody rattle that issued from his throat when the killing blade slid between his ribs. Her sister’s death had been no less horrifying to watch, coming as it did while the noble’s men made sport with her. And she never knew what had become of her mother. She, however, had been spared, for the young noble’s eye had fallen upon her while she desperately searched for a way out, seeking to escape the chaos and slaughter.
Had she not proven to possess a quick mind she might have lasted only a short time before she was sold in the markets, the noble’s infatuation with her quickly turned to boredom. She would have been as quickly replaced by another from among the milling throng of humanity huddled together in the cities of the dying world. But she had been curious, thankful, even eager to learn what he taught, to study the dark secrets into which they delved together: she the student, he the master.
“I hate you for what you are,” she snarled, dark eyes flashing, “For what you made me, and what I will become because of you. I would rather have died in the gutter, miserable and unlearned, than with the fate that now hovers over me…a fate I can see in your decaying frame!”
He lifted one gray, terrible arm, the thin bones beneath the corrupt flesh clearly and grotesquely defined by their supernatural emaciation.
“Chant one syllable, make one gesture, and I will cut your throat before you can finish,” she promised him, gesturing with the dagger to reinforce the threat.
He responded calmly, lowering his terrible arm, “Kill me and the priests will find you, sniff out your unsanctioned, heretical magic. I am still important, you see. You won’t be able to sneak your way out of the city.”
For all who practiced sorcery, there was only hatred and fear in the world. The punishment for its practice was a vicious death by a screaming mob – unless you found favor with the god-kings, who might have use for it, and unless you kept its practice secret from all others, as the nobleman she had loved had done…as she had done.
“I don’t plan on living past dawn. I don’t care. What I want is your death, your blood, your pain and suffering…you should have never pursued me once I left.”
His men had come for her, to force her to return to the city with them, and they had failed to take “no” for an answer. In return, she had ripped the life from the land, from her garden, from the small slave-village in which she had hidden for so many years. She had shaped it into terrible things with her arcane art, things that killed her lover’s men in indescribable ways, even as it killed the living land around her, raping and defiling it, turning it to ash and burned sand in the way of all wizardry.
“Do you plan to have me burned? As a heretic…a wizard? How will you prove it?” the question mocked her, but her dark eyes showed no emotion, no consideration of worry. They shined with unflinching hatred and malice.
“Burning is too good a death for you! I’ve come to gut you and let your death be a lingering one before the eternal hell you’ll suffer beneath the black eye of the sun in the wastelands.”
Wizards like the old man and the young woman, whose sorcerous incantations tore out the living soul of the land to fuel vast spells of destruction and malice, had slain the world and created the wastelands, as surely as if the world were a man into whose belly they had shoved a burning dagger. Because of this the elements rejected any who practiced the arcane arts, and defilers would wander the wastelands they had created in ceaseless torment after their deaths.
“So you will have your revenge? It will not matter. Kill me or not, the elements will still reject you! Your decaying remains will wander the desert for eternity, and your ghost will haunt your bleached bones where they fall. You cannot earn salvation from what you have done!”
“All I want is revenge. Eternity will not seem so long, then,” her black eyes glittered dangerously with a mad, steady light that revealed her fearless commitment to action.
“I know more tricks than you, girl. You learned all I had to teach and left me, but I didn’t stop once you were gone. You had power, oh yes, but the god-king let me peruse his library once – the fee was incredible! – but I had the chance, and I teased secrets from those ancient tomes! Black secrets that damned my soul more than any we ever explored together.”
Flecks of spittle sprayed from his aged lips with his agitated shriek. His dulls eyes were glowing now with a terrible intensity, an intensity that belonged to younger men or the fanatical priests of the god-kings, not brittle old men whose failed lives had doomed them.
Their voices exploded in unison, uttering twisted, arcane syllables patterned in a language lost to the ages, hers angry and forceful, his raw and whispery, both knowing the other well enough to guess their intention before any outward sign had revealed it.
His recitation was flawless, quick, and finished before hers. The grounds outside the mansion withered, the plants turned gray and crumbling, and the soil turned to dust by the arcane battle – the land’s life devoured by the casting of the twin defiler’s spells.
It did not matter, for he had finished first, and black things summoned from some forgotten dimension beyond the deep shadows of the room tore the woman before him apart, wrapping her in a red mist as the flesh and muscle was stripped from her amid terrible, unearthly screams.
The old man smiled a crude, toothy smile and cackled gleefully, even with dust in his lungs, but when the black things finally vanished, there was nothing. No bones, no gore, no remains at all of his vanquished lover. The decrepit defiler’s gray brow had only a brief moment to furrow in confusion…
The white bone of the woman’s dagger blade was streaked with a brilliant red, a color that also painted her pale, bloody fist, giving evidence of the deadly strike she had performed from behind while her illusion had distracted all else.
Moments after their spells had been cast and an eye blink after the dark forces had torn the woman’s false image apart and fled, satiated, back to their own antediluvian realm, the woman stood over the corpse of her former lover and teacher, now sprawled silently on the floor of the shadowy chamber like some strange, worn doll with sticks for arms and legs. His crimson blood ran and pooled across the stone floor like a vast puddle of tainted ink. Dead eyes stared out into the dark corners of the chamber, confused by the shadow of a thought; the withered lips below parted in asking an astonished question that had never managed to gain a voice.
“You may have learned terrible secrets, old fool, but I found ruins in the wastelands, ruins with terrible secrets of their own, secrets I wrested from ages before the god-kings ever ruled these failing cities of man. I will not end up like you, I will not – enjoy your eternity of suffering once they bury your corpse and the earth rejects you, defiler!”
She spat on the disturbing corpse, the toppled thing corrupted by years of wizardry and defilement, the thing that would soon roam the endless wastelands until the black sun burned the flesh from its bones.
Beneath the dim glow of one of the two rising moons, a pale shadow slipped across the gray ashes that were all that was left of the garden surrounding the mansion, and then over the white-washed walls where it disappeared into the street.
She had paid well – no one would find the body of the slain nobleman until morning, and she would be long gone from the city by then. The hunters would follow her, sniffing out her magic, seeking her destruction, but she would flee into the deep deserts where they would not care to follow, where they would forget about her and let the beasts of the deserts claim her.
Copyright (c)2005 Raven Daegmorgan